WHAT IS LIFE LIKE FOR FORMER POPULAR KIDS?

Ross and I were out to dinner last night with our friends Carter and Shannon, and the subject came up of what we were like in high school.

“Artsy, weird girl,” said Shannon.

“Uncool, listening to Garth Brooks,” said Carter.

“Wearing a sweater set, going to Bible study,” I said.

Ross didn’t have to answer, because I had already relayed a story about how he had his first singer-songwriter “gig” in high school (and thus = cool).  Granted, it was at a Barnes & Noble … but still!  It was cool not in a “popular crowd” kind of way, but the kind of way where you can look back and say, “yeah, I started playing guitar in high school.” And that right there is awesome.

This is what I always wonder about people who were in the popular crowd when they were in high school. Do they look back, too? Wistfully?  What is life like for them? Do they wonder if they already peaked? Do they admit they were part of the popular crowd, or do they fake uncool kid street cred? “You guys, I was sooooo dorky,” they’d say, and be lying.

***

Our parents tell us constantly that it’s good to be weird and different in high school, and of course we never believe them. This is especially the case for my generation and those previous, who had to figure out cool/uncool without the Internet. We went to the mall, decided if we were a Gap shopper or a Stüssy shopper; we bought magazines, music, and went to the movies, cobbling together an identity out of the pop culture that was available to us.

“It didn’t even occur to me that there was music outside of the radio,” said Carter last night.

This is why Carter and I definitely would have hung out in high school. I actually had a lot of friends, and an overall very positive high school experience … but I wasn’t cool. Not in Ross’s way.  Not in Shannon’s way. I would have been slightly scared of them, but also highly envious, as Carter and I walked to Young Life together.

Do you think he is listening to Metallica?” I would have whispered nervously to Carter as we passed by a head-banging, Pearl Jam t-shirt clad Ross, listening to headphones and looking generally rebellious.

Now, I did go through a brief flannel-shirt, Nirvana-listening, outsider-embracing stage in the 7th grade, but somehow, I seemed to forget about all that by the time I reached high school. Did that happen to any of you?

For me, I’m pretty sure I was scared straight. There was this one time in middle school where I spent the night at the house of my friend’s, let’s call her Anna, and Anna snuck back some tequila from her family’s ranch. We drank it, but not a lot, and we certainly didn’t go anywhere since we were 14. Anna and I basically stumbled around her house saying,

“Oh my gawd I’m DRUNK!!”

“Seriously, I am like, SO DRUNK!”

Then we ate vanilla ice cream, and she accidentally spilled some on her black dog, and we thought that was the most hilarious thing we had ever seen.

Anyway, her mom found the bottle of tequila in Anna’s room the next morning while we were at church, and marched me home to speak with my father. My dad, to his credit, thought she was totally nuts. And, didn’t really punish me. “If you want to try that stuff, it’s OK, just do it while an adult is around,” he said. Well, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. But I was also so scared of getting into trouble that I didn’t really drink in high school, out of fear that Anna’s mom or somebody else like her would march me home for a lecture.

***

But where were we?  Ah yes.  The popular crowd.

Part of the joy of being uncool is this larger membership you have later in life, where together, we can look back and laugh at our goofy high school selves. Like Carter and I laughing about how goody-goody we were, and how college, and specifically Austin, really changed how we view the world.

But do popular kids get that?  I’ve really only known one girl who admitted to being in the popular crowd in high school.  Her name actually was Anna, but for clarity’s sake, let’s call her Grad School Anna since that’s where I met her.

Grad School Anna is uniquely wonderful in so many ways, but the best thing about her is that she laughs at everything, including and most especially herself. The second best thing about her is her sharp style, and with those two qualities combined — fashionable and funny — well, how could you not have a popular kid on your hands?

Grad School Anna also told some excellent, self-deprecating stories about high school, like the time she went streaking and had an accident.

“Wait, what? Like you peed?” I asked her.

“No, Tolly, I didn’t pee,” she said. “I … fell.”

“Fell while you were streaking?”

“You know that orange netting stuff that goes around construction sites sometimes?” said Anna. “I tripped into that while I was streaking, and got tangled.”

“How did you get out?”

“I … I had to lay in the dark and wail for my friends to come get me.”

“NAKED?!”

” … [audible sigh] yes, Tolly, I was naked and wailing.”

So maybe former popular kids had moments like Grad School Anna, too. In fact, I’m sure they did — when you’re a teenager and dumb, you do dumb things that you can giggle about later. Grad School Anna, if you’re wondering, ended up falling in love with a Norwegian, lived in Norway for a while, and earned her doctorate in Restoration British Plays and Literature. So Grad School Anna is one of those former popular kids whose life continued to be interesting and fabulous, and maybe that’s the key to being a former popular kid. Making sure you do offbeat things with your life after high school, to guard yourself against reminiscing about all the times that were, back when you were 16, 17, 18.

However, that’s all just conjecture. There are so many triumphant tales about there about dorks, so many diaries of wimpy kids, so many revenges of the nerds. And I never get tired of them, having been a little dorky myself.

But who are the secret former popular kids among us? Did they continue to be dashing and much-beloved in their adult life, or was it all downhill after graduation?  Did they have to ensure they had plenty of adventures like Grad School Anna, to wash out the blandness that sometimes comes with being a former popular kid, and add some danger to their lives? Are these even relevant questions to ask them?

I’m dying to know.